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Economic Performance Of the Arabic Book Translation Industry in Arab Countries

Harabi, Najib (2007): Economic Performance Of the Arabic Book Translation Industry in Arab Countries.

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Abstract

Knowledge has always been at the heart of economic growth and development. It is disseminated chiefly through the different stages of education, R&D, the mass media and the translation industry. In Arab countries there has been a widespread impression that there is a low level of translation activities, which in turn has led to a low output of the translation industry in those countries. This paper addresses this issue; its overall objectives are (1) to describe the economic performance of the Arabic book translation industry in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and Syria; (2) to understand empirically the economic performance of that industry, the focus here being on qualitatively analyzing the major determinants (positive and negative factors) affecting the growth process of that industry; and (3) to provide policy makers and business leaders in the Arab region with theoretically sound and evidence-based advice on the issues analyzed in the project.

To provide an empirical base for answering those questions, both published data and fresh new data have been used. For the latter purpose, a questionnaire-based survey was conducted in the year 2005 among 190 experts, covering firm representatives and experts in industry and government. The Porter (Diamond) model has been used as a theoretical background. The empirical results were incorporated in five national case studies. This paper synthesizes the results of the national reports, giving a comparative account of the performance of the Arabic book translation industry in the five Arab countries.

The overall results suggest that the Arabic book translation industry in these Arab countries has not yet achieved the level of development of other developing and developed countries. Underperformance of the Arabic book translation industry is attributable to (among other factors) severe coordination failures. This is a state of affairs in which the inability of the different agents (translators, book publishers, suppliers, customers, and supporting organizations, state, and so forth) to coordinate their behavior (choices) leads to suboptimal outcomes. Since the economic performance of the translation industry often involves complementary investments whose return depends on other investments being made by other agents, coordination is crucial. Obviously, neither market forces nor the state have undertaken this coordination activity sufficiently. The Arabic book translation industry seems to suffer from both market failure and government failure. In light of these results the Arabic book translation industry offers great economic potential that should be mobilized systematically in the future. This paper discusses how this can be achieved, based on a well-designed and implemented process of upgrading and innovation in companies, industries, and clusters related to translation activities. Public policy, properly understood and adequately implemented, can play an important role in this process.

To overcome, or at least to mitigate, some of the major coordination failures in the Arabic translation industry, it is necessary to select an existing pan-Arab nongovernmental organization (NGO) or to create a new one, whose mission would include two major groups of activities:

The first action would involve the coordination of activities on the supply side of the Arabic translation industry. This group of activities would encompass the following:

1. Improving the documentation of Arabic translation needs. This can be achieved by creating a regional Internet-based database that would constitute an information base on what has been translated, what is being translated, and what will be translated from foreign languages into Arabic. 2. Designing and implementing translation support programs (including providing financial means) on a sustainable basis. This would create and maintain a critical mass of translators and publishing companies. 3. Promoting translation quality assessment programs. This would mitigate the widely known problem of poor quality translation. 4. Designing and implementing training programs for translators and publishing companies involved in the translation business. This would increase the number of translators and improve the quality of translation activities. 5. Promoting networks among writers, translators, and publishers that facilitate contacts and create opportunities for new translation projects. Such additional communication channels would spur new project development. All these measures are intended to strengthen the supply side of the translation industry in Arab countries.

The second action would involve the coordination of activities on the demand side of the Arabic translation industry. The suggested NGO should support readership surveys and promote reading programs. This can be done in collaboration with radio and television stations, print media, schools and universities, and so forth. These measures would help to identify the real needs of the reading public and enhance the culture of reading, especially among young people.

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